Friday December 22, 2006

Broken new WLRN website

wlrn 91.3 listen online button WLRN has a snappy new website. The old website needed an update, and the new one is good looking and useful. What bugs the crap out of me is that the “listen online” link is locked up in a big flash banner. What’s more, the actual stream is in a Windows Media format, and sometimes doesn’t work under Firefox or on Macs. Nice work, fellas. Did you know that Internet Explorer has a click-to-activate “feature” for Flash now, so all IE users see is a gray box with no writing? (Firefox with flashblock gets a big empty box with a little button.) This is like giving your listeners a quiz before letting the radio turn on. Notice a drop in online listening since this system has been in place, or do you not track that?

There’s a particularly disturbing irony here, because WLRN has long run a radio reading service for the visually impaired. Guess what — the visually impaired are exactly who they’re screwing with this system, who used to be able to listen online but now can’t. There’s a handy “if you’re experiencing problems listening online” link. I clicked it and (since it’s also part of the flash bar, someone without Flash wouldn’t be able to click it, and I didn’t have any way of knowing what it was about to do:) it opened my e-mail program with a pre-prepared e-mail to someone at Conquest Business Group. These are apparently the folks who helped WLRN set up their online streaming. They haven’t bothered to build themselves a website, but they can tell you that they’re a “Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.” The body of the pre-prepared e-mail asks you to answer a few questions — what’s your operating system, browser, etc. This is ominous: when you “click here” if you have problems, you’d think you’d be taken somewhere where they would help you, but you get the exact opposite.

I figure I’ll give them a call about this, so I click “contact us,” and proceed to a page with an address, phone number, and picture of the building: exactly what I want. I dial the number and, wait for it, I get the voicemail of a very nice lady in WLRN’s “Audience Response and Membership” department(!), who’s on vacation until January(!!); in other words this isn’t WLRN’s main switchboard number, it’s someone who takes complaints and memberships from listeners. I finally got through to someone, and even called Conquest, but I never discovered any way to access the stream without Flash.

Look: accessibility is important. That’s why the US Government has a law about it. WLRN is not a federal agency, so it doesn’t have to abide by those rules, but of course it still should. Aside from making a website available to disabled people, there are all sorts of business and meta- reasons for doing so. In the old days, Flash was considered intrinsically inaccessible, and while that’s no longer 100% the case, it’s still mostly true. My recommendation? Get rid of the Flash. It’s an irritant at best and an impediment all too often. (If someone offers to build you an all-Flash site, my advice is to run.)

By the way, no other NPR station I could find does this. I checked Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, and New York. All have simple-click streaming, and they all seem to work without problems. (Some are very advanced, with a choice of different streaming technologies and podcasts. If thousands of teenagers can podcast, why not an NPR affiliate?) WLRN is a great station, but this needs pronto fixing.

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  1. mkh    Fri Dec 22, 02:32 PM #  

    WLRN has always had an uneasy relationship with the web, so it doesn’t surprise me that this happened. I’m going to forward this link to the few contacts I have at WLRN. If results don’t happen fairly quickly, it may be worth bring to the M-D School Board’s attention.

  2. alesh    Fri Dec 22, 03:25 PM #  

    BTW, mkh, I spoke to someone at WLRN about this this morning, who said they’d “get back to me.” Didn’t hear anything by about 2 pm when I ran this.

  3. Steve Klotz    Sat Dec 23, 12:42 PM #  

    WLRN is a great station....”

    No it isn’t. It’s not even a good station. It produces very little of its own (local) programming, preferring to run national blather like Diane Rhem with her ear-torturing Andy Divine voice. The morning drive time features a country-western dullard and a sap whose talent consists of reading Miami Hurled headlines. And then there’s those terminal school board meetings. Talk about riveting. Egad.

    Compared to other metropolitan areas’ NPR offerings, WLRN is, in a word, lame.

  4. alesh    Sat Dec 23, 04:27 PM #  

    Blah blah blah. Public radio is better in other cities. It was better in the good old days. Bob Edwards was much better then Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne.

    Whatever. I wish WLRN had some great locally-produced program that got played all over the country. But I’d much rather listen to decent non-local stuff then mediocre local programs done for the sake of doing something.

    I have my issues with them (Fresh Air at 8 pm? If it was on at any other time I’d re-arrange my life to be commuting then.)(And the locally produced three-hour black hole on Sunday afternoons.)

    And the Herald partnership makes sense — there’s no need for yet another half-assed newsgathering organization in town, not when the Herald needs to be getting into other media anyway.

    Personally, I even like the school board meetings. But I’m weird, I know.

  5. mkh    Sat Dec 23, 05:26 PM #  

    I enjoy listening to the board meetings, too, so you aren’t the only freak here. (Okay, over 150 comments debating what a great guy Pinochet was makes that obvious.) A few years ago I used to look forward to the monthly comments from this Libertarian guy who would show up at every meeting and use his two minutes to talk about how all taxes are evil, and the school board should thus be dismantled.

    Now that I think of it, isn’t he governor now?

  6. Alex    Sat Dec 23, 11:17 PM #  

    I ABSOLUTELY love the school board meetings. Highest of high humor. Especially when one of the gadflys manage to get one of the comissioners un hinged, that’s always gret.

  7. NicFitKid    Sun Dec 24, 03:41 AM #  

    The school board meetings are awesome to behold, sort of like watching the inner workings of a 1912 sausage factory in slow motion. I always chuckle at the constant bickering and infighting between Marta Perez and the rest of the board (I’m pretty sure Ana Rivas-Logan hates her guts) and the complete sense of boredom in Augustin Barrera’s voice as he goes through the motions of chairing the meetings.

    I think my all-time favorite speaker during the public comment section was the “It’s TIME for a CHANGE” guy. He just kept repeating that tag line with the exact same cadence every few sentences or so while criticizing the janitorial department for either persecuting him or promulgating 70’s training doctrines he felt were not up to 21 st century janitorial standards.

    Yeah, WLRN may not be the nation’s premier public radio station, but I mostly listen for the NPR shows and APM’s Marketplace. The local programming is bland and useless, from the traffic reports (northbound I-95 is backed up from downtown to the Golden Glades on a weekday afternoon? No way, get out!) to the sleepy voiced Joseph Cooper and his never relevant Topical Currents.

  8. Jonathan    Mon Dec 25, 10:55 PM #  

    . . . A few years ago I used to look forward to the monthly comments from this Libertarian guy who would show up at every meeting and use his two minutes to talk about how all taxes are evil, and the school board should thus be dismantled.

    Now that I think of it, isn’t he governor now?

    I wish.

  9. Steve    Wed Dec 27, 02:42 PM #  

    I wish WLRN had some great locally-produced program that got played all over the country. But I’d much rather listen to decent non-local stuff then mediocre local programs done for the sake of doing something.”

    Duh. But who makes these the choices — “decent non-local” vs “mediocre local” programing? That’s the attitude of a loser in a mediocre market settling for less, and a perfect statement of much that is wrong with south Florida. Stop conceding the first-class cabin to other passengers, and start expecting better right here, right now. Raise a stink. Write a letter. Throw a stone. Spend some money. Show some balls.

    BTW: good example. Bob Edwards was the best.

  10. alesh    Wed Dec 27, 07:43 PM #  

    I think what’s “wrong with South Florida” is that it’s still somewhat of a small pond. We’re thinking big, but a lot of the support for cultural stuff is in its infancy.

    Great radio programming isn’t like competent government — you don’t just wake up one morning and decide you’re going to put on a great program that will be nationally syndicated — something has to sort of come along. If I was really invested in this, I’d be inclined to think about producing a radio program of my own. Technologically there’s nothing prohibitive about it; what we need is a good idea.

    So put your mouth where your mouth is steve — give us some suggestions for an npr radio program that we could produce in Miami.

  11. Steve    Thu Dec 28, 09:55 AM #  

    Alesh, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I find NPR so unappetizing, so unlistenable, that anything I could devise would be antithetical to its current audience. For example, I can’t imagine what kind of radio would appeal to people who enjoy listening to school board meetings. More meetings? Longer ones?

    Was a time when NPR seemed to be about airing out ideas. An intelligent, articulate, and WELL SPOKEN HOST (the single most annoying aspect of NPR in this market is the grating sound of its on-air lobotomized personalities. Phil “the goober” Latzman, for chrissake. Diane Rehm!) who did hours of research interviewed experts in a field of interest or current controversy. Bob Edwards was the penultimate, but there were others, of course.

    Evidently the market for that evaporated. I dunno, I don’t bother to listen. Too painful. Too cautious and “sensitive.” Too vanilla. Too corporate. Basically, too fucking dull for a youngster like me.

    BTW — my mouth is already where my mouth is.

  12. Chistopher Jahn    Sun Dec 31, 09:26 PM #  

    First, I will point out that the schoolboard meetings are broadcast exactly ONE DAY a month. I will also point out that the station has no choice in the matter, since the schoolboard owns the station and has dictated that on the third thursday of every month, LRN will broadcast the meeting. So suck it up people, and get real.

    I personally enjoy listening to NPR, so I can’t fathom complaints about it. I specifically tune in to WLRN to listen to NPR, as well as the “black hole on Sunday afternoons”, the Folk and Acoustic Show. I get to hear a lot of great local talent there, the only place on the air in Miami where that happens.

    The point about Flash is a valid one. It’s a solution for very lazy webmasters. I also have to say that the page works flawlessly for me in Firefox.

    That said, I’d like to be able to save the link in Winamp, instead of keeping my browser open to listen to music.

  13. alesh    Mon Jan 1, 04:06 PM #  


    OK, I’m on record as taking perverse pleasure in the schoolboard meeting broadcasts. BUT. People should “suck it up people, and get real”? You’re saying we have no right to complain?

    It will interest you to know that the public owns the airwaves, and that WLRN is supported in small part by our taxes, and in LARGE part by the voluntary contributions of it’s listners, many of whom also happen to be cRiTicAl mIaMi readers. Most of the listers hate them. Most of the STAFF of WLRN hate them (partly because listnership during the broadcasts plummets).

    It’s the schoolboard’s station, and they get to do what they want. That much they make obvious to all WLRN listeners one day out of every month.

    Now look, school board meetings are important, and making them accessible is important (for the life of me I can’t imagine why they didn’t just start putting them on the internet like about eight years ago and leave the 99% of radio listeners who couldn’t care less along). But aren’t Miami City commission meetings MORE important? Aren’t Miami-Dade commission meetings MORE important? If the school board was interested in serving the public, they’d find a way to broadcast all of that before broadcasting their own meetings.

    OK, end of rant. In a perfect world, regular wlrn would be broadcast, along with ALL of these different streams, on different substations, giving people the option of listening to anything they wanted to. Luckily that world is right around the corner (like a year or two); it’s called digital radio. But why it hasn’t been on the internet for years is a puzzle. And a shame.

    Nice bird pictures, btw.

  14. Steve    Tue Jan 2, 12:36 PM #  

    It will interest you to know that the public owns the airwaves, and that WLRN is supported in small part by our taxes, and in LARGE part by the voluntary contributions of it’s listners, many of whom also happen to be cRiTicAl mIaMi readers.”

    This is incorrect, and part of the propaganda that public broadcasting advocates want you to accept as true.

    According to WLRN’s website, the combined radio/teevee budget is about $9 Million, of which the “Friends of WLRN” contribute $3.8 Million, a good sum, but only a bit more than 1/3 of the overall budget. The remainder derives from the school system ($3.3 M), the Corporation for Pubic Broadscasting ($1.6 M), and a state grant ($.7 M). I believe all of these are essentially taxpayer funded, although a small portion of CPB might also be donated.

    So yes, Alesh, we own their ass, but not in any way more meaningful than we own the fucking Pentagon. But at least with the Pentagon we get something useful, and lot more tolerable than Diane Ream’s gravelly croaking.

  15. alesh    Tue Jan 2, 02:20 PM #  

    Ha: I stand corrected!

    Although that actually happens to strengthen the point I was making.

    You can disagree with WLRN’s programming, but to say they’re useless is just obstinate. And Maybe obsequious. And obstreperous. And obvolute. JPW.

    Diane Ream suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, which makes her sound older then she is. Of course it’s irrelevant — she’s a great interviewer, and picks her guests very well, so her program is always interesting. She’s great. You’re wrong. And totally obvolute.

  16. Steve    Tue Jan 2, 02:46 PM #  

    Alesh, I never called them “useless” and you know it. And I don’t “disagree” with their programming — it’s not the sort of entity one agrees or disagrees with — I said it’s dull, unimaginative, cautious, etc. Go re-read my comments if you’re so motivated, but don’t mis-fuck ‘em.

    I don’t care how wonderful or brilliant or disabled D.Ream is. Her job consists of speaking aloud over the air, and no matter how fabulous what she says and asks might be, the actual sound of it turns me off faster than bat breath in a french kiss. The statement that the sound of a radio personality’s voice is “irrelevant” is the sort of FUBAR reasoning whose traction is limited to government teat-sucking enterprises like this one. In the real world, she writes copy.

    Boils down to preference anyway (with my money, of course). So I guess the while thing is unrevalanter than even this exchange.

  17. alesh    Tue Jan 2, 02:58 PM #  

    we own their ass, but not in any way more meaningful than we own the fucking Pentagon. But at least with the Pentagon we get something useful

    Please don’t pull a Rick on me… we can comprehend simple English sentences, and we know what you said.

    Yes, her job is speaking aloud over the air. I can tell you that many of her listeners find her voice to be enjoyable to listen to. It might be an acquired taste; I remember finding it odd the first time I heard her. But of course it’s worth acquiring. I’ll assume you’ve never tried?

    But think of what you’re really suggesting — that when she got sick, decades into a successful career, she should have quit her job (or been fired?) because of it.

  18. Steve    Tue Jan 2, 03:36 PM #  

    Of course that’s what I’m “really suggesting:” that when she could no longer do her job, she should have been relieved of that job. That’s called The Real World. If you’re a truck driver and you’re blinded, you don’t get to drive the truck any more. Reason it through — if she’d lost her power of speech entirely, does she still keep her job?

    I HAVE tried listening to her. I can’t handle it. I get hives. Maybe, as a recovering musician, I’m auditorially oversensitive. Still, if I ran that station, she’d be out like a light.

    And she’s not even the worst voice on public radio!! The airwaves are filled with mumblers, stammerers, over-serious sensitive voices, too-clever-by-half-smart-assed voices, smarmy bastard brayers, etc. whose elocution and timbre cause poison ivy of the ear drums.

    But you go ahead and enjoy it. You like hip-hop, too, right?

  19. alesh    Tue Jan 2, 03:43 PM #  

    Exactly: she didn’t loose her voice, so there’s no reason for her to loose her job. “Auditorially oversensitive?” I’d say more like auditorially fickle. Personally, I like variety. I even like Ira Glass’ voice (although it is a little “over-serious sensitive”). Then again, I mainly listen to these people for what they have to say, which is really what their jobs are about.

  20. Steve    Tue Jan 2, 04:20 PM #  

    Yeah, you’re right. For the same reason, models who age, wrinkle, and go flabby keep their jobs, too. Their job is to be models, not look good.

    BTW — it’s “lose,” not “loose.” Can’t spell? You’re fired.

  21. alesh    Tue Jan 2, 05:25 PM #  

    No luck, Steve — your analogy is broken. It would work if the job of a radio announcer was to make pleasant sound to, say, lull people to sleep. Perhaps that’s what you listen to it for? But most of us listen for ideas and information. Diane Rhem is a sharp and sensitive interviewer, so she gets to keep her job.

    My spelling is atrocious. Firefox spellcheck saves my ass most of the time, but it can’t do squat about my malapropisms, which has been pointed out before.

  22. mkh    Tue Jan 2, 05:25 PM #  

    It may be a mistake to jump into this one, but I can almost understand Steve’s point about Dianne Rehm. When her show first began broadcasting in this area, I wondered who the hell gave her a mic. After reading a bit about her, though, I gave her another shot and though you may not hear me say this often, Alesh is right. She’s a good interviewer, she researches topics before moderating discussion, and I’ve come to enjoy her show (and even her voice). And I’m a recovering musician, too, Steve, so that’s no excuse.

    The WLRN financial numbers, though, are staggeringly low. How does that compare to other NPR/CPB numbers nationally?

    [Paging NicFitKid, please come to post ID 1054, NicFitKid to 1054 please.]

  23. alesh    Tue Jan 2, 06:04 PM #  

    Link to a page that you can get WBEZ’s financial records, but I didn’t, because i’m pdfphobic.

    Rehm does two hours of radio every weekday, and she’s as smooth and prepared as someone who does an hour show once a week.


  24. mkh    Tue Jan 2, 06:11 PM #  

    Hmm, I don’t particularly like PDFs in a non-intranet environment either, but I’ll give it a shot. These are 2005 numbers.
    Membership Contributions $ 9,936,405
    Campaign for a Sound Future Contributions 3,168,874
    Program Underwriting 3,109,465
    Government Grants 1,611,292
    Earned Income 1,918,995
    Total Operating Revenues 19,745,031
    Well, that’s more than WLRN, anyway.

  25. alesh    Tue Jan 2, 06:45 PM #  

    What you would want to do is to compare the number of people that reside within the range of each of these radio stations, and compare that to the total membership contributions the station receives. Sort of a per-capita public radio support. I see no way to do that with information available on the internet, however. The population of Chicago proper is roughly in the ballpark of Miami-Dade county, but each station’s range is of course much larger. (I think it’s be non-controversial to guess that WBEZ has much more people in it’s range.)


  26. mkh    Tue Jan 2, 09:21 PM #  

    I know from conversations with WLRN people that the listener/member ratio is among the lowest in the US, or was a couple of years ago. I have no idea what the actual figures are, though.

    Maybe a phone call is in order.

  27. Steve    Tue Jan 2, 10:50 PM #  

    Gentlemen, I never ever said Diane Rehm wasn’t a good interviewer, or that she didn’t do her research, or even that she’s too ugly for radio. (I DID say I didn’t know because I can’t listen. )

    I simply said (over and over) that her voice was so grating that I found it unbearable. I also suspect I’m not alone in that opinion. And I believe — I am certain — that a bad voice is not an advantage in radio. And No, Alesh, a dull voice that lulls one to sleep isn’t the only alternative, either. There is middle ground, you dolt.

    All of which moved us away from the initial point, which is that WLRN is a very weak sister, even among public broadcast systems, supported by my tax dollars because unlike other radio stations, they don’t support themselves on the strength of their programming, advertising, and EARNED revenue. I end up supporting that hatchet-voiced crone and her host of dullard colleagues whether I write them a check or not.

    MKH is on the right track: compare population figures with number of listeners and check the ratios. The membership dollars, as noted, should be a much higher proportion of total revenue as they are in metro areas where there are greater numbers of (e.g.) universities and college educated listeners, upper-income residents, etc. The usual profile of a PBS-friendly demo jist isn’t here. Yet.

  28. alesh    Wed Jan 3, 12:07 AM #  

    Dolt, eh? Um, touché, I guess. Except that that’s not what I said, either. Looks like the dolt’s on you.

    Anywho, what you DID say is that Rehm (thanks for correcting your spelling of her name, btw) should loose her job. IE that the formal qualities of her voice outweigh the content of what she has to say. This is so obviously laughable that no serious person would actually believe it. Since you obviously assumed that position for the sake of a fun (if absurd) argument, I’ve taken you up on it. And since your position is obviously indefensible, I’ve gone easy on you. (Though if you keep up with the lame insults my generosity might wane.)

    As to your initial point (sorry we haven’t adhered to it to your satisfaction), I agree that WLRN is a modest effort compared to, say, WBEZ. But as we now see, that modesty is in direct proportion to their operating budget. When the locals start ponying up more, maybe we’ll get world-class locally produced original programming. But as things stand, I’d rather have the good national stuff then mediocre local stuff.

  29. NicFitKid    Fri Jan 5, 03:17 AM #  

    So I hear I’ve been paged. I guess this is my thanks for opening my big mouth about public radio in previous comments. Sorry for the late reply, work has been driving me insane; but hey, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

    Here’s a little back of the envelope comparison between public radio stations WNYC (New York), WBEZ (Chicago), KPCC (Los Angeles), and WLRN. All numbers in thousands and cribbed as best I can from annual reports and fiscal reports: Total Pvt Gov’t %Pvt %Gov’t
    WNYC $29,684 $27,599 $ 2,085 93% 7%
    WBEZ $19,745 $18,133 $ 1,611 92% 8%
    KPCC $ 9,713 $ 9,221 $ 492 95% 5%
    WLRN $ 9,398 $ 3,800 $ 5,598 40% 60%

    As has already been stated, WLRN’s main funding source is governmental (school board, CPB, and state grants). Other prominent stations in major cities (NY, LA, Chicago) get well over 90% of their operating funds from contributions (membership, underwriting, foundation support, sales and investment). So why doesn’t WLRN attract more support from its listener base?

    My hypothesis: WLRN’s local listener base doesn’t have enough population and doesn’t have enough money. Check the total populations and median household incomes from the 2005 ACS census numbers for the counties served by the broadcasters I’ve compared (all population numbers in thousands, income in full):

    WNYC Pop. Hsehld Median Income
    Bronx County 1309 $29,228
    Kings County 2446 $37,332
    NY County 1529 $55,973
    Queens County 2215 $48,093
    Richmond County 455 $63,023

    WBEZ Pop. Hsehld Median Income
    Cook County 5206 $48,950

    KPCC Pop. Hsehld Median Income
    L.A. County 9758 $48,248
    Orange County 2944 $65,953

    WLRN Pop. Hsehld Median Income
    Miami-Dade Co. 2329 $37,148
    Broward County 1757 $46,673

    As you can see, Miami-Dade’s median income doesn’t exactly achieve stellar rankings (although we do compare favorably to the Bronx—hurray?), plus we have less people available to earn that income. Broward helps us out, but again has less population than the public radio markets the WLRN haters have cited as examples of what we should produce.

    Unless we become a more densely populated metropolis with a stronger local economy that features higher median wages and a strong business/industry base, WLRN won’t have the type of listeners necessary to tap into the membership and underwriting funds needed to produce the top-notch programming you see in other markets. In fact, we’re damn lucky the school system is WLRN’s sugar daddy. If they cut the station off, it would shrink to the size of most small-market public radio broadcasters with the bare-bones funds to purchase one or two NPR shows ( Morning Edition for the AM drive and All Things Considered for the PM) with a whole lot of classical and jazz to fill out the other twenty hours of the day.

  30. Steve    Fri Jan 5, 09:54 AM #  

    Excellent analysis and great work, NicFit. And the first part of your (up to the comma) sentence of your final paragraph could be the preamble to any number of significant conclusions regarding this market’s (e.g.)educational institutions, philanthropy, political influence, economic influence, etc.

    My original contention, before Alesh began his piddle-fest, was that WLRN is rather lame, and I think what you’ve provided here is the reason. I’m not a fan of public broadcasting myself, obviously, but when an enterprise is supported at a 90% level by its own constituency, IMHO it’s earned its keep and deserves a place.

  31. mkh    Fri Jan 5, 01:07 PM #  

    Thanks for chiming in, Nic. I knew you wouldn’t let us down.

    Unlike Steve, I am a fan of public broadcasting, but I wish WLRN was able to provide more of the material I enjoy (audio dramas, greater musical diversity, for two). I can accept the limitations of the market, though, and still support them as best I can.

    I strongly believe that South Florida is entering its adolescence, so our ambitions are bigger than our abilities. I hear a lot of envy of NYC, but we are at least 75 years from being able to compare ourselves to a major metro region with a straight face. Until then we’ll have to do what we can to pave the way for that sort of responsibility, and hope that the corruption inherent to the region — or half-assed attempts to “fix” the corruption with a nuclear option — doesn’t destroy us first.

  32. Nick Angiuli age 69    Sun Jan 7, 09:50 PM #  

    It is 9:45 PM Sunday night Jan. 7 & I can’t get the music on the computer after listening on my car radio. The radio said to listen to the jazz online. Sure!!! You try it!!! No way to connect!!! Guess I will have to tune in my Chicago stations!!! They work!!!